CLEMSON — One might think that the leader of the No. 2-ranked Clemson Tigers has arrived — especially when you consider what Coach Dabo Swinney has accomplished in his tenure at the helm of the program.
Over the last seven seasons, the Tigers have amassed an 82-15 record — the FBS’ second-best winning percentage and win total -- with 47 of those wins coming against teams that finished the season with a winning record.
The Tigers have also won 10-plus games for seven years in a row — tied for the sixth-longest streak in FBS history — have won four ACC championships, including three in a row (2015-17), have finished at least equal to their preseason AP ranking, a first in FBS history, and have been ranked inside the top 25 for the College Football Playoff ranking, including being ranked No.1 eight times the last six years.
But Swinney believes that he still has to prove that he is worthy of the position with which he has been entrusted -- just like all of his players.
“I come to work every day and I have something to prove. To me, I am still an interim coach that has to prove I can lead this program every day,” Swinney said. “And Christian Wilkins has to show up and prove that he is still the best 3-technique. And Clelin (Ferrell) has to show up with that mindset from three years ago that is trying to prove he can be a great player at this level. That is something you have to have woven into the culture and you reinforce that when you get those opportunities.”
With the Tigers garnering all kinds of preseason accolades, whether it is being picked to win the national title by ESPN and Sports Illustrated or having their defensive line called the greatest in the history of college football, Swinney believes that it is his job, and the job of his team, to go out and prove them right -- or wrong.
“The preseason stuff is great, but that is based on past performance,” Swinney said. “That is just based on the past. We have to be great right here at this moment and be locked in on what we have to do with this team. Every year you have to prove them wrong or right and we have to go prove it.
“That is every day. That is not something you walk in on day one and say, 'Hey, you have to go prove it. You have to go earn it.' It's just really every day as far as how we talk to our guys and the training and the strength and conditioning and how we talk to our guys in the off-season. Our individual meetings and group meetings. It's part of the culture of our program to handle success and adversity. We start over every year. That is just what we do, and we have to do it all over again. You don't carry over last year's big plays and you don't carry over last year's mistakes.”
While Swinney is a proponent of starting over each year, it is that mentality that has led to the Tigers’ recent run of success. And it is that kind of mentality that ensures the Tigers will continue to have that type of success for years to come.
“It's a new challenge and we are on a new journey and the journey doesn't start today,” Swinney said. “If you just now think you are going to put the work in then you are behind. This team has been grinding since January. This is just the next phase of our journey. We constantly start over and reinforce that. Every coach and every player has something to prove. That is how we approach it.”